Heard the saying out of sight, out of mind? Well business networking is a great way to maintain visibility in your local area. There are so many business options and now things are finally settling down post Covid, it may be a great time to be back out. Today’s episode is about why business networking is important.
We’ll go through the different types of groups, what you should be considering to make sure you get return on investment, even though we don’t go in selling on day one!
PS please note this podcast was released in September 2022 but the blog only loaded in November 2022 due to Jane’s ongoing health issues with Long Covid (7 months but who’s counting – hmmm me!). Normal podcast releases will return (with a season break occurring over the Christmas/New Year period).
Disclaimer – All information provided today is general in nature. We do not know your individual circumstances, so seek advice for your situation from a trusted advisor.
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S2 Ep32 Why business networking is important with Jane Tweedy FAQ Business Podcast transcript
There’s a saying out of sight, out of mind, and I’ve certainly found this to be true in the business networking space. So today’s episode is all about business networking. Particularly the in-person networking. So obviously you can network online as well, but today’s focus is in-person. We’re going to talk about the benefits, how to find groups. All the sorts of things that you need to know when you’re considering whether or not, you should be networking for your business.
00:30 Business networking is not network marketing!
And just to clarify, network marketing is very different to business networking. Network marketing is a model along the lines of direct sales. And today we’re not talking about that. We are talking about business networking, collaborating and connecting with others.
00:47 Welcome to the FAQ Business Podcast
… for business owners, covering four pillars, actionable education, inspiring leaders, businesses like you, and thought leadership, where we challenge your thinking. Hosted by myself, Jane Tweedy, I’m founder and lead trainer of FAQ Business Training, where we want to avoid you getting ripped off or ripping yourself off. Let’s jump into today’s episode of the FAQ Business Podcast.
01:23 What is business networking?
My name is Jane Tweedy and I am the host of the FAQ Business Podcast. Here with you today to talk about what is business networking and why it is so important for you to do with your business. First of all. Let’s clarify what is business networking. Basically it’s the art of networking, connecting with others, in this case for your business. Wikipedia’s definition: networking is the sharing of information or services between people, businesses or groups. It is also a way for individuals to grow their relationships for their job or their business.
02:00 Today’s episode is about in-person business networking
When looking at business networking, there are many types out there. And today, as already mentioned in the opening, we’re not going to talk about the online side, we’ll do that completely separately as that’s got a whole other series of issues that associate with that one. So today we are looking at in-person networking.
Now that could include video type meeting networking, but we are focused more on the in-person face-to-face live events. Now, there are groups that range very differently when we’re talking about networking. And you may have been to one before and thought, oh, I didn’t like networking at all, but maybe you weren’t at the right group for you.
02:40 We’ll run through some examples of different types of networking groups
So today I’m going to run through some different examples. We’re going to talk about a couple of particular groups that you might look at joining, and then we’re going to run through some of the purposes, benefits, etcetera.
02:52 BNI are at the most structured end of business networking
They can range from being quite informal to completely formal. The extreme to extreme. So the extreme on the formal side is your Business Networking International, or BNI for short. And those meetings there is a 20 odd point agenda that they go through. It is very, very, very structured.
03:11 There are many other types to the completely informal gatherings
On the flip side, I’ve been to groups where literally people have rocked up together, and they’ve just sat down and had a chat. There was literally nothing. There was no talk, there was no intros, there was no nothing. It was just literally sit down and have a chat. I was like, okay it was one extreme to the other. So there is that extreme, and there are definitely a lot of groups that fall very much in between. Really have a think about what type of business you are, what type of person you are and what type of group might suit you best? Or maybe best for you, even if it doesn’t suit your style.
03:49 Small groups and big groups – find what works for you
There are small groups to large groups. I’ve been to networking groups where there’s only been like four people at them. I’ve been to networking groups with there’s been 150 people at them. They can be very different sizes. So typically what I do suggest you do, is go to different events, trial them out and see which ones fit right for you.
04:10 Don’t lock in until you’ve trialled a few options
Definitely don’t sign up to a year’s membership or anything without having checked them out, and checked out the alternatives. So, you know, kind of what you’re expecting.
04:20 Costs include dollar and time cost (time is money after all)
Some of the groups of free, and some of the groups are very expensive. There is again, a big range here. You’ve got to go and say, well what is your budget for networking? Both in terms of dollar cost, but also in terms of time cost. So do think about how much do you want to spend on this?
04:39 Payment options differ my networking group
Think about things like, are you paying a membership fee to be involved? Some would have a hybrid type model where you pay a membership fee, plus you pay per meeting. Then you might have others, which are membership only, so all the meetings are included. And finally the other option is just per meeting that you pay to attend. So there’s plenty of business networking groups and business networking events that are run across Australia. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of them.
05:12 What are the benefits of networking? Socialisation
What are the benefits of networking and particularly business networking? Well, one of the biggest benefits obviously comes from the fact that many of us, even in corporate jobs now, are working from home. So if you home based, or operate in a very small team, it can be a very good idea to join a networking group, to give you that contact with other people. It’s just that real social aspect that it helps with.
05:40 Like minded people who get your challenges
But also there’s people there that might be like-minded. They might also be facing the same challenges as you. Sometimes we can’t talk to our partner or anything like that, because they simply don’t get it. They’re in a corporate job. They get paid if they don’t work. If we’re sick in our businesses, we don’t get paid. Simple as that. So we need to understand that sometimes going to our partner for that support is just not the right thing to do. Sometimes we do need to go externally and get support from others, and a networking group can be a really good place to do this.
06:16 Why are you attending business networking?
The benefits are also things that are about how we would plan our purpose for attending these different groups. So think about the benefit you want to get, and make sure that when you’re going to different groups, think how they would tick that box for you.
06:31 Main reason – connecting with others
So as I’ve already mentioned, The social aspect, getting you out of the house, mixing you with other people. Depending on the network, you’d go to, they could be also doing the same business as you, or they could be people doing completely different businesses. Or they could be potential referral partners or collaborators. Or possible prospective clients.
06:55 Building local connections
Some networking, particularly in person, obviously, because we’re traveling locally for it, is going to really help you build local connections. And there’s one particular group that always is the go-to for the local connections. And we’ll talk about that a bit later. What about if you want to expand your territory a little bit. You want to move half an hour away from where you are now, or really target that area. Well going to networking in that area can be a great way of building that territory.
07:24 Learning and inspiration
What about things like learning? A lot of the networking groups will also have some learning component. Some will be heavily learning focused, in fact, you’ll get very little networking. So really think about why you’re going, what is your purpose for going? And so some groups you might go to to learn, other groups you might go to, to be inspired. Others might be for that local connection. So really think about why you’re going to the different groups.
07:49 Accessing ‘other people’s lists’
You could be forming relationships with prospective customers. But often we are more focused on building relationships with collaborators and referral partners. People that we can work with who have that same target customer base we do, to make sure that we can use their list of people, as they could use ours.
08:12 Be aware of referral and finders fees
But when I say, use the list, it doesn’t mean give them the list, but it means, hey, if you’re talking to your client that might need their services as well. You could be mentioning them. And there are rules around referring. So please make sure you’re aware of what they are for your location. In Australia and in New South Wales particularly, there are requirements that any referral, any affiliate fees, etcetera, must be disclosed. That there is one in place. You don’t have to disclose the amount, but you do need to say, there is a fee that’s going to change hands. Okay cause obviously that could influence your decision as to why you are referring that person.
08:50 No flicking business cards at people!
Eventually, we want to get sales out of these groups, right? But this is not our primary purpose on day one. You don’t go to a networking group and start flicking your business card around. Literally there was a guy that did this. He literally stood on the other side of a round table and flicked his business cards at people. That is not a good thing to do. In fact, although I still take business cards, I only ever give them out if they’re asked for. I don’t just willy nilly give them out. There’s just no point, but what I often do, is I connect on LinkedIn. And that is something that I make a point to do. So it’s that sort of electronic connection.
09:31 Giving back to local groups
You could also be going to networking to give back, and that can be another very valid point. That’s why I do get involved in some groups, because they were very supportive to me when I was starting out, so I like to just stay a member to help those people as well. And it’s just a good, feel good factor really.
09:48 Track your return on investment including time
For any networks that you join, and for any purpose that you join, I would consider tracking your return on investment. And no, it’s not just about the money. It’s not just about the sales, but considering, does it add value to your day, or is it just taking time out of your day, that you could be spending doing other things?
10:07 What is Business Networking International BNI?
There’s many examples of these business networks around, particularly business networking in Australia. So one that is mentioned time and time again, so therefore I am going to talk about it today is Business Networking International. Normally referred to as BNI.
10:24 Pros and cons of BNI
So I’m going to specifically mention it and just mention pros and cons of it, because it is something that comes up a lot about networking groups. It is known to be quite cult like, and it can be quite aggressive and pushy in the way that it sells itself to others. And often it can mislead when it’s (members are) selling, I’ve seen many times people have posted. “Come and join me for a free breakfast”, but they’re not telling you there’s going to be a one-year commitment if you sign-up. They make it just sound like come to this free breakfast and meet my networking buddies. Which you do, but yeah, they’re doing it so you can pay up and join for the year.
11:05 So just be a little bit careful about what you’re signing up for. Just make sure you know what you’re going in for. So if you are signing up for that free breakfast, and you know that you’ll never sign up to be a three or $4,000 a year member, then don’t sign up. Like don’t go. It’s kind of wasting your time.
11:22 BNI is a referral-based business with KPIs for members
It is very much a referral business. So that’s the idea of it. In fact, they set KPIs – key performance indicators for members. How many referrals do they give, and how much dollar value of referrals do they give? How many visitors do they bring to the meetings? So there’s a lot of KPI set. And in fact, this is one of the key complaints people have once they’ve left BNI, is that they felt that they spent more time building the BNI business, then they spent building their own. Okay maybe you could argue, maybe they should be setting better KPIs in their own businesses. And making sure that they have got that focus. But I find that some people don’t even have KPIs for their businesses and yet they are operating to KPI set for BNI.
12:05 What happens if you leave BNI?
The referral business is operated under the mantra of givers gain and that’s the big mantra that’s mentioned in BNI. The problem with this, particularly from people who’ve left BNI and stopped paying for it, is that they can be ostracised. They’re no longer part of BNI, therefore, if they are in BNI as say, as a conveyancer, and they leave, and another conveyancer comes into that group and takes their place. Well, that group is probably going to end up recommending the new conveyancer and not you.
12:37 Are the BNI connections you establish real?
So the connections formed sometimes are real, and sometimes will carry on after you leave. But sometimes they are not. If you stop being a member, then you can stop getting referrals because there is one person in your group, typically in your industry and if you leave, somebody else will come in and take that industry spot.
12:58 Some industries do well
Now if you’re something like an accountant or a bookkeeper that spot will be filled immediately. Because accountants and bookkeepers traditionally do very well with BNI. Why? Because every person in the room is a business. Therefore, every person needs an accountant. They also talk about the fact that you’re not just pitching to the room, you’re pitching to people that they know.
13:18 Are the people in the room, or connected to the people in the room?
But you’ve got to think about your business, and do the people in your room, the people in your group, do they know your people that you need to get in touch with. Because I’ve seen this happen where somebody really needed to get in touch with corporate procurement people for instance, or corporate HR people. And the people in the room definitely don’t have that, but they also aren’t connected to those people either.
13:44 Does BNI work for your type of business?
So really consider whether or not your business will benefit. As I said, some like accountants and bookkeepers they’re really a no brainer. You can easily benefit, as long as you put in the legwork. Are good and kind and all the rest of it and build that trust.
13:59 Compare your networking investment to alternative marketing options
But some businesses, I really question the value of being in the group. In fact, one of my clients, she actually did a little measurement, where she actually didn’t go to a BNI meeting and instead did some cold calling. And she got far better results from the cold calling, then she got from going to the BNI meeting.
14:18 So in that case, you’ve got to go. Yes, she could possibly have gotten leads out of BNI, but after six months or so, she really hadn’t gotten any. So instead she spent the time cold calling, warm calling and got much better traction out of it.
14:33 BNI single industry per group
The other thing is just to be remind this issue about the single industry thing, it can sometimes be a little bit questionable. Because sometimes there will be somebody from your industry in there. There might be an ambassador in there that might be in your industry. Now they’re not meant to be pitching for work in that group, but people get to know them, like them, trust them as well, and they may end up with work.
14:55 There may be competition due to the category splits
The other one that’s very common is for instance, there might be a web designer, a SEO person and a graphic designer. But all three businesses might do all three things. They’ll only be pitching for one thing in that group. But obviously when, again, when people get to know, like, trust them, When they have their one-on-one meetings, they’ll say, yeah, we do web and graphic and SEO. So it’s going to come out right. It’s like you can look at their website and find that information.
15:26 Consider the time and money commitment before joining BNI
So do consider whether BNI is right for you. It is a three to $4,000 first year commitment. Once you add in the joining fee, the first year of membership and the regular meeting fee. So do consider that when you are looking at the financial commitment.
15:43 And as I said, do a bit of a time commitment as well. A return on investment. Because you’re going to be, committing at least half a day, a week to BNI. To allow for the fact that you need to be going to the meeting, traveling to the meeting. You usually have to conduct at least one one-on-one meeting with one of the other people there. 121 meeting as they call them. So you’ve got to allow for that, and there’s also things like listening to certain podcasts and there’s other requirements to being a member. They will also often ask you to be on the committee for that particular group. So it is a big commitment. So I don’t say it’s bad. I don’t say it’s good. I just say, make sure you do your due diligence. Make sure you’ve considered whether it’s right for you before going into it.
16:28 Industry associations
Another big one is industry associations. We had a whole episode about industry associations. And one of the benefits of being a member is that you do get to go to things like events and conferences. So check out that episode to find out about the industry association ones.
16:45 Business chambers great for local connection
Chambers honestly, are something I mentioned earlier, as being the best place you can go to for local connection. Because they really are connected. They’re connected into council and actually be an advocate for the local businesses in the area. So they tend to have very good connections across local government, state government, and generally the business people in the area. I tend to find they’re very, very well connected. So definitely think about joining your local chamber, if you really wanting to get known in the area.
17:18 Business chambers have businesses of various sizes
The other thing I like about chambers is that you get a mixture of businesses. Right from the sole trader, right up to the multinationals. So if your business is needing to target customers that are a bit bigger, like the corporate example I mentioned earlier of a corporate HR or corporate procurement, then going to a chamber is going to be a better bet for you.
17:38 The stuffy boys clubs have gone
The chambers do have a little bit of a reputation sometimes of being a bit stuffy and a bit boys’ club. Though, many have actively worked to change this view. So for instance, the Sydney Hills Business Chamber, which I’m a member of, and the Penrith Valley Chamber, have really done a lot to change this over the years.
17:56 So the Hills did this probably a bit longer ago, five or so years ago, whereas Penrith did it just pre Covid. So they are changing and evolving. So if you have checked them out in the past and they weren’t for you, like I did with Penrith, for instance. They now are. They’ve changed their attitude and they’re quite different. So definitely check them out.
18:16 Many chambers have small group meetings included in membership
A lot of the chambers now also have these models were they have small groups that meet fortnightly. So all of the ones that I’ve sort of had dealings with, all have these small groups. Penrith they’re The Collective, in the Hills they’re My Board, and in the Parramatta area, there are the Energy groups.
18:35 Groups to share your challenges and wins
These are really good for connecting on a board level type thing with other businesses. So a really good way of getting that sharing of ideas and sharing your challenges and your wins with a group of people. And again, they tend to operate like the BNI model in the respect that they have one per industry, but they are not typically hugely referral-based, they’re more about problem and challenge-based, so have a look at those.
19:02 Smaller networking groups
Then there are plenty, and I mean plenty of smaller networking groups around. Groups like the Independent Business Network, Inc. IBN Inc. Not to be confused with BNI, which operates in the Sydney Hills area. They’re very much more focused on building long-term connections with people and education. So very much not a referral type thing. We’re not going in there to shove sales down someone’s throat or anything like that, it is more about educating. So very much micro businesses, but micro businesses that have been established for quite some time typically.
19:39 Free groups can be a case of get what you pay for
With free business networking, you’ll find that there are plenty around for that. It can be a case of you get what you pay for, but some can be great. They do often tend to attract micro-business owner’s, really right down to that hobby level, because they’re not spending any money. So you need to think about the cost and time investment that you’re doing here. So although you’re not paying any money, you’re paying time. And is this actually a good use of your time?
20:07 Sponsored groups can be good
So I find if there’s sponsorships involved, then they sometimes can be very good. There’s still some really good groups around. So for instance, the WordPress meetups that were happening. They were great. And they were sponsored by some of the WordPress businesses and things. Therefore the meetings could be free, that will cover the room cost and all that sort of thing. And there was also the volunteers running it. So there can be that. But I find the ones that are genuinely free, they will typically be selling something. Okay, so just bear that in mind, particularly if you’re in the nature of the same business as the person running the group. You’re obviously not going to be able to spruik your business very much if you’re at odds with them. So just check that out.
20:54 How do you find local business networking groups?
So, how do you find business networking groups in your area? Just start with Googling terms like business networking groups Sydney. Business networking events Sydney. Business networking Sydney. Obviously replacing Sydney with your town or locality. Now in that case, because Sydney is so vast, you’d be far better off choosing a more specific term, like Penrith or Parramatta, Sydney Hills.
21:21 The Hills or Hills Shire or?
The Hills area is a bit of a problem because it doesn’t really have a set name. The Hills, Hills District, Hills Shire, Sydney Hills. Very confusing. But for the rest of them, you can pretty much just stick in your one word, and it can help you find the right groups.
21:36 Test a variety of groups
My recommendation is to try a variety of networking groups and stick consistently with those that meet your needs for that particular group. So you might go to one group like IBN. I go there more to give back and also for education purposes. I go to the Sydney Hills Chamber for connections in that Hills area. And very much I found that I wasn’t going to that networking group for awhile, and it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. As soon as I started going back again, I’ve been to the, sort of the last three meetings, and now rejoined. I’ve found that, people that just hadn’t seen me for a while are now going, oh, can you come and speak at our event.
22:18 Main aim to build know, like and trust
It’s great to be visible. People forget about you when you’re not in front of them, but when they see you, you can build much stronger rapport with people. And really build up a stronger know, like, and trust with people. And that really is the main aim of your networking. Build know, like and trust, which will eventually lead to sales. But we don’t go looking for sales on day one. It’s just not going to work like that.
22:44 Give one bad experience another go
So try different groups out. If you have a bad experience at a group, but think the group has potential. Try it again, there might’ve been a bad night. The person running it may have been away, all those sorts of things. So just give it another go.
22:58 My group in Penrith Business Action Networking
Pre Covid, I actually started a group in Penrith, Business Action Networking, with the intention to merge it into the city and things as well. But Covid obviously happened and everything went crazy. Unfortunately, I put that on hold. But my aim of starting that was to go well, there are certain things that I was getting frustrated about networking.
23:20 Consider starting your own if nothing meets your needs
So I didn’t find for instance, that there was many co-ed networking opportunities in the Penrith area at night time. I was like, okay, what can I create that will fill that gap? It is about a case of I looked at what could I stop doing that people don’t like, things like high fees and KPIs.
23:40 Created ways for introverts and shy people to get more involved
What could I continue doing that people liked? Forming good connection with people. And what can I start doing? So, one of the things I found is that people that were quite introverted or new to networking, were feeling a bit isolated at some of the events. So I made it a point to create what I called small talk prompts, little cards that people could have and it would have a question on it. And that way they could ask these questions and not feel that oh, I’ve asked the wrong question, or done anything. Cause they can blame my cards for asking the wrong question. So that was quite a cool little addition, just to make sure that people felt comfortable.
24:21 Do you get to introduce yourself to others at large?
Also, I made sure that there was a structured networking exercise during it. And also that there was introductions done. So the intention was if the groups got much bigger, than there would be intros to the table, but that way, at least 10 people each time would get to hear what your business is about.
24:39 Who’s who in the room – Connectors lists
And I think that’s really important, because sometimes when we go to networking groups, we just don’t know who’s who in the room. And what I do like, and one thing I also was continuing in that group, which was where the Sydney Hills started it, was sending out the name of the people, the name of the business and their category or industry.
24:58 Can work out who to connect with head of time?
And I found that was a really good idea because it lets you form those connections, check out people ahead of time and work out who you would like to connect with. Is there someone on that list that really sticks out, as a great target potential referral partner or collaborator for you? So it’s great to check them out.
25:16 The 3 F’s Follow through
One thing I would just like to say that when you do go to networking, please do the three F’s. Follow up, follow through and follow back. So follow through is where you say I’m going to give you something. I’m going to connect you with someone. I’m going to do something for you. So follow through and actually do it.
25:38 The 3 F’s Follow up
If something was gonna happen and it didn’t follow them up. So do a follow-up. But just a little word to the wise. When we are doing a follow-up, don’t use the word follow-up. It sounds bad. It sounds negative and it sounds like we’re chasing them – you haven’t done something.
25:53 Instead, what you want to do, is just not use that word follow up. And no, just wondering, or just checking back. None of the word just. Ditch that as well. Rather say to them, hey we met up last month at this meeting. We were going to catch up for a coffee. Wanting to know if you’re still wanting to catch up. Or would next Tuesday work for you, even better. Jump straight into there. Be more proactive. So that’s the follow through and follow up.
26:22 The 3 F’s Follow back
Is when a bit later, maybe three months later, after you’ve met with them, or maybe you didn’t meet with them, follow back again. Because they may not have had a need to meet with you at that time, or may have been too busy at that time, but now they might be in a better position to have a chat with you.
26:40 Form long lasting connections
So it’s really good to form those ongoing lasting connections with people. That can switch to either an online type connection and catch up through things like LinkedIn. Or can stay as the in-person catch-up when you’re at events.
26:55 Catch up with the regulars and some newbies
So I tend to try and have this view when I’m at events to catch up with the regulars, so that you’re really cementing and rebonding those relationships. But also always try and meet a few new people as well. Because you never know where that next amazing opportunity is going to come from.
27:15 So why is business networking so important?
It keeps you visible. It keeps you in front of your potential crowd. People tend to build trust with people that they can eyeball. People that they can see, they tend to feel far more likely that they would want to do business with them. You’re not some fake behind a screen or behind a phone. You’re a real person they can see. It just helps to form stronger connections.
27:42 Form strong connections
And that’s what you want to do, is form strong connections with others. Really use that to your advantage, and not to a negative advantage, but to an advantage that’s mutually beneficial to both parties.
So I hope today’s podcast has enlightened you, or reminded you, why networking is so important.
28:05 Your business networking action plan
What groups are you going to check out and go visit and the next month or so? So my recommendation is, do have at least a couple of groups that you are going to regularly. It is a really good and healthy thing to do for your business, and for your personal self, particularly given the world that we’ve lived in and the last couple of years. People are tired and exhausted, but also they really are lacking proper social connection. So get out there and mingle, and really understand that networking is important for your business. Thanks for listening, I’m Jane Tweedy and I’m the host of the FAQ Business Podcast.
28:45 Subscribe to the FAQ Business Podcast
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of the FAQ Business Podcast available on all good podcast services. You can subscribe today via FAQBusinessPodcast.com.au. Subscribe. Follow. Share, and where able, review our podcast. We look forward to inspiring and educating you again on the FAQ Business Podcast.
Today’s podcast episode featured our host Jane Tweedy. Her details are as follows:
Jane is a Professional Certified Coach with International Coaching Federation (PCC with ICF), business advisor and trainer. She loves working with growing small to medium business owners who are doing the right thing, to help them do it right! Currently, Jane offers at least 50 live sessions a year to train small business owners.
Jane offers a variety of services to clients and her online school and membership site went live late 2021. Jane’s focus going forward is building the membership and online school out further, and offering implementable small group training – something she finds is often the missing link.
If you are interested in training, speaking, or anything else Jane has to offer, please connect via firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact forms on our websites.
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faqbusinesstraining.com – our new online school
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